Life in the Dollhouse: Stay At Home Daughters, by Lea

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lea’s blog Emancipated Atlas. It was originally published on May 31, 2014.

As little girls play with dolls in dollhouses, so Christian fundamentalist parents play house with their daughters, teaching them from a young age that women are to be homemakers- any college degree or job outside the house being considered prideful or sinful. Worse, college degrees for women are not God’s design. This isn’t your average “homemaker in training” evangelical culture, this is an agenda that reaches far beyond training daughters to know traditional life skills. This takes everything you know about conservative Christian womanhood to an extremist level.


I’d like you to meet several people I have met through the years and was in contact with during my time as a stay-at-home-daughter.

“Wendy”, a late 20-something from Idaho, considers her work to be Pinteresting. She tries to pin 400 things each day. When I talked with her, she said she felt called to “inspire” others and give them a hobby of repinning her pins. When we were friends on Facebook, she listed her work as “Editor of Pins at “Wendy’s” Pinterest.” She takes direction from her parents, from getting her father’s approval every morning on what she wears, to waiting for her mother to choose the meal Wendy will make for dinner. Wendy’s mother still ‘screens’ books and movies to make sure they are wholesome before Wendy and her older sister can read or watch them. Wendy does not make many decisions for herself, without first getting an answer or at least plenty of information from her parents about something. Wendy hopes that a man will come along and marry her- a man who would first have to be interviewed with a several hundred question form and approved by her father before she knew anything about his interest in her, typical of courtship culture ingrained in the stay-at-home daughter movement. Last I knew, she claimed her father’s vision was for her to “refrain from work outside the home” -yet she offered no other clue as to what her father said she should do instead.

“Wendy” seems perfectly happy with her life and being happy and content is important. Yet, she does seem to be oblivious to any other choices available to her. She claims that “deep Bible study” for a few minutes each morning is better than any college degree; that her parents are her shelter from the “evil world” and that if she becomes too educated, she may end up choosing a sinful lifestyle – which she defines as “living outside her father’s home as an unmarried woman.”

“If I become too independent,” “Wendy” said once, “I will not only be disobedient to my parents, but to God who desires all unmarried women to remain at home. I don’t want to live in sin.”

Where did this idea of sin come from?

Doug Phillips, former leader of the now-collapsed Vision Forum empire in the dominionist branch of homeschooling, says in a documentary called “Return of the Daughters” 

“Daughters, by no means, are not to be independent. They’re not to act outside the scope of their father, and then later, their husbands. As long as they’re under the authority of their fathers, fathers have the ability to nullify or not the oaths and the vows. Daughters can’t just go out independently and say, ‘I’m going to do this or marry whoever I want.’ No. The father has the ability to say, ‘No, I’m sorry, that all has to be approved by me.”

You’ve guessed it, stay at home daughters live under the roof of their parents until they marry- even if they never get married because their father couldn’t approve those who asked! Those who follow this lifestyle believe it is sin for a woman to do anything else, thanks to the teachings of Doug Phillips. It should be noted that Doug, an advocate for “strong, godly families” within the conservative homeschooling community was recently exposed for having an affair with a young girl who worked without pay in his home as a nanny. The girl appeared in an interview in the same documentary mentioned above. While his actions do not automatically “nullify” his teachings – sound doctrine does- it does show the rampant hypocrisy and cover-up that occurs in the every day of dominionist and neo-reformed sects.

Generally, stay at home daughters can volunteer outside of the home, as long as they do not go far, work in a family or Christian setting, and are not paid for their work. You will even find them volunteering in local hospitals with siblings or like-minded friends- again without pay and in context and “accountability” of a family.

Steve and Teri Maxwell, fundamentalist homeschooling parents with a number of adult daughters at home, recently posted an article on their family “Titus 2″ blog detailing the ‘benefits’ of adult stay at home daughters. Though they make it clear their daughters stay at home by their own “choice” – I am left wondering if the women know there are other options, and if those options have been presented in an objective manner.

Teri says “Sometimes our girls are asked about their plans for the future. Right now they are 17, 22, and 31. They are all unmarried and living at home.” She does not address the possibility of how she would respond should one of the daughters want a job or desire to attend college. Teri claims her daughters desire the protection and safety of home and will remain there until marriage. This means that they will likely remain at home until they die since Steve and Teri have apparently made legal provisions that the house remains for their use upon their death. Also, the women and their marriages hinge entirely on Steve’s consent and his interviewing an interested young man- of which he has been rumored to have already turned away several. Nicknamed “Stevehovah” by his “homeschool apostate” critics, Steve Maxwell is known for shadowing his daughters wherever they go- from church to speaking at homeschool events and being a middle man between his children and all incoming contact.

Another argument the Maxwells make on their website is that they enjoy having a strong family unit that is inseparable, citing the Ecclesiastical verse “a threefold cord is not easily broken” using the mother and father as 2 cords and the daughters as a single cord. They enjoy seeing their daughters delight and work in their family’s home, making meals together for their parents and enjoying reading out loud to them in the evenings.

“Our culture typically says for young people to leave home when they are eighteen, and often the parents are happy to be free of them,”  says Teri in an article.  “We love conversations with our adult children. We like doing things with them. We like them to… ask for counsel. They are Steve and I’s best friends, and we are delighted that they want to live in our home! Allowing our adult, unmarried children to live in our home provides accountability for them. Our daughters are not isolated, they have opportunities to attend church and attend ministry events outside of our home with us.”

However, what exactly is this “protection” they are talking about? Is it not possible for Christian adults of age to handle their own lives, while remaining accountable to God? Where does personal responsibility come in? Why does a 31 year old woman need a fatherly chaperone? In Wendy’s case, why must her father approve her outfit each day to make sure it is modest when Wendy is nearing 30? What is so dangerous and unsafe about the natural maturing of your children? And, within the Maxwell family, who or whom  exactly made this decision to keep their daughters at home?

The language used by Steve and Teri is loaded with much authoritarian heavy-handedness, making it seem like the family is all about mom and dad’s wishes for the children- and a quick study of the Maxwell family’s belief shows this is explicitly their intent! From parent-centered curriculum for new parents like controversial Ezzo’s “Babywise” to Bill Gothard’s ATI homeschooling curriculum, many Christian homeschoolers, like the Maxwells, believe that children’s lives should be ordered around their parents’ schedules, plans, and wishes.

The voices missing from this discussion, at least in the Maxwell family- are the daughters’ – who have been raised in an isolated sect of the conservative homeschooling community with few social opportunities outside of Christian homeschool conferences where they speak.

Continue reading this piece on Emancipated Atlas.


  • I always thought the purpose of parenting was to raise adults, not overage children.

  • I’d just like to point out that not every Fundamentalist demands that single adult daughters stay at home, not working for pay, not going to college, etc. I think it depends on which denomination or sect (or cult) the families follow. My dad went through a patriarchal period when he became a Bill Gothard fan. When Gothard fell in the late 70s, so did my father’s way of thinking that way about his single adult daughters (5 of us). He is still a Fundamentalist in every other way, including the idea that wives submit to their husbands, so he isn’t far from what is described here. But there are nuances in every sect.

  • I really like the title of this series. I had a beautiful dollshouse as a child which I spent hours redecorating and arranging. (Along with my brother – so much for gender roles!) At night I’d turn out all the lights in my bedroom and turn on the tiny electric ones in the dollshouse and peep in through the windows. It was so perfect and cosy in there. Everything was in its place, just where I wanted it. The dolls sat quietly and lifelessly where I had placed them.
    In the morning I would get up and look in my dollshouse again. The dolls were still in the same spot. But I imagined that at night when I was asleep they would all get up and play and dance, quickly rearranging themselves as the day dawned.
    Now I think this is how many stay at home daughters must feel. Their lives are not their own. They are living out someone else’s fantasy. Will they ever get the chance to break free and move the furniture, or even open the swinging front door of the dollshouse, which has no lock?

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  • I hope the Maxwell parents have had that talk with their daughters about their changing bodies. Menopause can be very bewildering when you don’t know what is happening.

    The main job of parents is to manage the gradual separation leading to independent living. When you take your child to the first day of kindergarten you get teary eyed, the child gets teary eyed and then they love it and you look forward to hearing about their adventures out there in the world. The Maxwells have utterly failed at this simple task that parents the world over succeed at every day.

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  • I saw a picture of the father with young boys at a county fair….I hope he wasn’t approaching them when they were alone (no parent/guardian present). That really wouldn’t be appropriate.

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  • Is there a good place to possibly reach out to and assist any of these girls who may want to escape this life style?

  • I had the opportunity to meet the Maxwells at a homeschool conference a few years ago. At the time Sarah (the oldest) was almost 29. When she spoke she told of how her father had already rejected several guys for her. Some of whom she had really liked. One of the reasons a guy was rejected was because he did not hold the same belief that girls should always wear skirts/dresses below the knees. She also told of how she did not want to write the children’s books for her family. But at age 24 her parents informed her she had to. I don’t have a problem with people who wish to lI’ve an extremely conservative lifestyle. I do have a problem with people who give their children no other choice and no financial/social independence in order to have opportunities.

  • Another domineering, patriarchal whack job ruining the lives of his children, all with the help of his wife.

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